Quedlinburg Abbey

Imperial Abbey of Quedlinburg
Reichsstift Quedlinburg
Imperial Abbey of the Holy Roman Empire

Coat of arms

Castle and abbey of Quedlinburg
Capital Quedlinburg
Government Elective principality
Historical era Middle Ages, Early modern
   Abbey founded 936
  Upper Saxon Circle 1500
  Turned Protestant 1539
   Secularised to Prussia 1802/3
  Incorporated into
    Province of Saxony

Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Saxony
Kingdom of Prussia
Today part of  Germany

Quedlinburg Abbey (German: Stift Quedlinburg or Reichsstift Quedlinburg) was a house of secular canonesses (Frauenstift) in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It was founded in 936 on the initiative of Saint Mathilda, the widow of King Henry the Fowler, as his memorial.[1] For many centuries it and its abbesses enjoyed great prestige and influence.

Quedlinburg Abbey was an Imperial Estate and one of the approximately forty self-ruling Imperial Abbeys of the Holy Roman Empire. It was disestablished in 1802/3.

Today, the mostly Romanesque buildings are a World Heritage Site of UNESCO. The church, known as Stiftskirche St. Servatius, is used by the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Germany.


Former collegiate church of St. Servatius in Quedlinburg, now a Lutheran church

Quedlinburg Abbey was founded on the castle hill of Quedlinburg in the present Saxony-Anhalt in 936 by King Otto I, at the request of his mother Queen Mathilda, later canonised as Saint Mathilda, in honour of her late husband, Otto's father, King Henry the Fowler, and as his memorial.[1] Henry was buried here, as was Mathilda herself.[2]

The "Kaiserlich freie weltliche Reichsstift Quedlinburg" ("Free secular Imperial abbey of Quedlinburg"), as its full style was until its dissolution in 1802, consisted of a proprietary church of the Imperial family to which was attached a college of secular canonesses (Stiftsdamen), a community of the unmarried daughters of the greater nobility and royalty leading a godly life.[3] The greatest and most prominent foundations of this sort were Essen Abbey, Gandersheim Abbey, Gernrode Abbey, Cologne Abbey and Herford Abbey, in the last of which the young Queen Mathilda had been brought up by her grandmother, the abbess.[4] Through the efforts of Queen Mathilda, Quedlinburg Abbey became one of the scholastic centers of Western Europe.[4]

Thanks to its Imperial connections the new foundation attracted rich endowments and was soon a wealthy and thriving community. Ecclesiastically, the abbess was exempt from the jurisdiction of her diocesan, the Bishop of Halberstadt, and subject to no superior except the Pope.[5] The Bishops of Halberstadt were constantly engaged in dispute with the abbesses, as they claimed to have spiritual jurisdiction over the abbey in virtue of subjection of women to men.

The abbess, as head of an Imperial Abbey, had seat and voice at the Imperial Diet. She sat on the Bench of the Prelates of the Rhineland of the Ecclesiastical Bench of the College of Ruling Princes.[6]

During the Reformation the abbey became Protestant, under Abbess Anna II (Countess of Stolberg).

In the course of the German Mediatisation of 1802 and 1803 the Imperial Abbey was secularized and its territory, properties and subjects were absorbed by the Kingdom of Prussia as the Principality of Quedlinburg. Between 1807 and 1813 it belonged to the short-lived French puppet state Kingdom of Westphalia.



Territory of Quedlinburg Abbey c. 1750

In the first decades after the foundation the community was favoured by numerous gifts of land, particularly from the Imperial family. All later clearances (i.e., of previously uncultivated land) in the immediate vicinity were also theirs, but in addition they acquired far more distant possessions, such as Soltau, 170 kilometres away, given by Otto I in 936.

Among other property the abbey also received the following:


The abbey also received numerous gifts of precious books, manuscripts and liturgical items, which were stored in the treasury. The Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission describes the treasure as "the most valuable medieval church treasure" next to Aachen and Halberstadt.[9]

At the end of World War II a number of the most valuable items were stolen by an American soldier, Joe Tom Meador, including the reliquary of Saint Servatius, from the time of Charles the Bald; the 9th century Samuhel Evangeliary (Samuhel Evangeliar); the printed St. Wipert's Evangeliary (Evangelistar aus St Wiperti) of 1513; and a liturgical ivory comb. The stolen items reappeared in 1987 and after much litigation were returned to the church in 1993.

See also: Theft of medieval art from Quedlinburg


Main article: Annals of Quedlinburg

The abbey is also known as the home of the "Annals of Quedlinburg" (Latin: Saxonicae Annales Quedlinburgenses, German: Quedlinburger Annalen), begun in 1008 and finished in 1030 in the abbey, quite possibly by a female writer. Quedlinburg was well suited for gathering information on current political affairs, given its connections to the Imperial family and the proximity of Magdeburg, an Imperial centre. The "Annals" are mostly concerned with the history of the Holy Roman Empire.[10]


See List of princess-abbesses of Quedlinburg.

Church buildings

St. Servatius
Collegiate Church of St. Servatius
Stiftskirche St. Servatii Quedlinburg
St. Servatius
Location Quedlinburg
Country Germany
Denomination Lutheran
Website Website of the congregation
Founded 1070 (current building)
Founder(s) Otto I
Queen Mathilda
Consecrated 1129 (current building)
Heritage designation UNESCO World Heritage Site
Style Romanesque
Type Cultural
Criteria iv
Designated 1994(18th session)
Reference no. 535
State Party Germany
Region Europe and North America

The collegiate church or Stiftskirche St. Servatius, is sometimes colloquially referred to in German as Quedlinburger Dom (Quedlinburg Cathedral), although it was never the seat of a bishop. It is dedicated to Saint Servatius of Tongeren and Saint Denis and is a significant Romanesque building.

Building history

Construction of the three-nave basilica on the remains of three predecessor buildings began sometime before 997 and finished in 1021. The immediate predecessor building where Henry I was initially buried in 936 in front of the main altar had been a small three-aisled church with narrow side aisles. In 961 the remains of St Servatius were brought from Maastricht to Quedlinburg.[11]:86-90

The basilica was consecrated in 997. A fire in 1070 caused severe damage. The building was rebuilt in its previous form, and was rededicated in 1129 in the presence of Lothar III. The church contains the architectural feature known as the niedersächsischer Stützenwechsel.[12]

Later alterations included a new choir (c. 1320), the southern wall of the transept (1571) and the southern wall of the nave (1708).[11]:90

Significant renovation work was done in 1863-82. The western towers were rebuilt. The pulpit was also added at that time and the crypt was given a new front. In 1936-9 changes were made to the choir to make it better suited as a Nazi shrine (also see below under burials). The Gothic structure was internally "returned" to Romanesque style. The church was rededicated in 1945 and restoration work on some part of the church has since been ongoing to this day.[11]:90


It is used by the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Germany.

Since 1994, the church has been a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO. It is also a designated stop on the tourist route Romanesque Road.


Heinrich Himmler and other senior SS staff in the crypt, 2 July 1938

Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler), King of Germany, and his wife Mathilda are buried in the crypt of the church. Under the Nazis, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS, came to Quedlinburg several times to hold a ceremony in the crypt on the anniversary of the king's death, 2 July. This started in 1936, 1,000 years after Henry died. Himmler considered him to be the "first German king" and declared his tomb a site of pilgrimage for Germans. In 1937, the king's remains were reinterred in a new sarcophagus.[13]

Other burials:


  1. 1 2 The "Later Life" of Queen Mathilda Page 99
  2. The "Later Life" of Queen Mathilda Page 126
  3. The term "secular" ("weltlich") refers to the fact that they took no formal religious vows and were bound to no monastic order. In the Middle Ages and the early modern period these Frauenstifte were important facilities for the care of unmarried and widowed noblewomen. The Stiftsdamen or "canonesses" were often learned, and skilled at artistic works
  4. 1 2 Sanctity and Power: The Dual Pursuit of Early Medieval Women, Suzanne F. Wemple, Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal, Claudia Koonz and Susan Stuard, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), 139.
  5. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
  6. G. Benecke, Society and Politics in Germany, 1500-1750, Routledge & Kegan Paul and University of Toronto Press, London, Toronto and Buffalo, 1974, Appendix III.
  7. cf. the deeds of grant in the digitised municipal archive of Duderstadt at:
  8. cf. the presentation by Manfred Mehl: Die Münzen des Stiftes Quedlinburg. Hamburg, 2006, pp. 42-49.
  9. "Quedlinburg(German)". Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  10. Thietmar, David Warner, 2001: Ottonian Germany, p.43
  11. 1 2 3 Antz (ed.), Christian (2001). Strasse der Romanik (German). Verlag Janos Stekovics. ISBN 3-929330-89-X.
  12. "Lower Saxon support alternation", by which is meant that after every two columns is placed a pillar
  13. Janssen, Karl-Heinz (19 October 2000). "Himmlers Heinrich(German)" (PDF). Die Zeit. Retrieved 24 May 2016.



Coordinates: 51°47′09″N 11°08′13″E / 51.7859444444°N 11.1368055556°E / 51.7859444444; 11.1368055556

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